Gimme Five: Overlooked jazz guitar recordings by Pat Martino, John McLaughlin, others

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Here’s my look at jazz guitar records that didn’t get their due.

We check in as Emily Remler takes on Wes Montgomery — both of whom died too young — then discuss legendary stars like Larry Coryell and John McLaughlin, and make a stop along the way with Danny Gatton. Yep, Danny Gatton …

EMILY REMLER – EAST TO WES (1988): Remler died two years later at age 32 just as she was beginning to become a major force in the hard bop realm. Of about a half dozen records she left behind as a leader, this one will make you miss her the most. All but the title last track are covers that are not overexposed, most notably the melodic “Sweet Georgia Fame”.

Remler’s guitar is very much in the Herb Ellis mode, but she lent a nice soft touch that was totally her own. Backed by Buster Williams, Hank Jones and Smitty Smith.

LARRY CORYELL – MAJOR JAZZ, MINOR BLUES (1998): A noted fusion guitarist, Coryell’s straight-ahead work in the 1980s was good but uneven. The 32 Jazz label takes the gems from that set of work and nicely compiles it into this record. Coryell, in my opinion, is more of a natural going pure jazz anyway.

His notes are just slightly less than clean, but it’s a trademark that endears the listener after a while. Various artists back him up, but Kenny Barron is most notable as his foil on piano on about half the tracks.

PAT MARTINO – MISSION ACCOMPLISHED (1999): This is really a toss up with Martino’s Head and Heart. I go with this (for now) because Head and Heart needs more listens to appreciate. Pat Martino is not terribly well known outside of other jazz guitarists, but I don’t think I’ve heard bop phrasings done as well on frets as I’ve heard it from him.

What’s equally amazing is that after a run of great albums in the 1970s, Martino had surgery to remove a aneurysm in the brain and had to relearn his craft from scratch throughout the ’80s. By the time of the two albums in this twofer (Interchange and Nightwings) in the mid-1990s, he had regained all the style and form of his heyday. Maybe even more so.

DANNY GATTON – NEW YORK STORIES (1992): This record is actually credited to a one-time group “New York Stories”, or “various artists.” The band is made up of altoist Bobby Watson, trumpeter Roy Hargrove, Joshua Redman on tenor, pianist Franck Amsallem, bassist Charles Fambrough and drummer Yuron Israel. And a rockabilly picker named Danny Gatton.

While the late Gatton’s other works are actually rock/blues affairs, his lone foray into jazz makes one wonder of the possibilities. While he demonstrated that he could easily handle Montgomery phrasings, his non-jazz background freed him from being beholden to it and his approach to jazz guitar is the most refreshing you will hear in this genre for a long time.

JOHN McLAUGHLIN – EXTRAPOLATION (1969): British guitarist McLaughlin is not exactly an unknown … but he was when this record was first released. He spent much of the 1960’s doing session work alongside other then-unknown musicians like John Paul Jones and Ginger Baker.

Right around the time he got the call from Miles Davis to come to America and record In A Silent Way with him, McLaughlin recorded a superb debut album that is straight jazz with just a hint of the fusion he would help invent shortly thereafter and expand with his Mahavishnu Orchestra a couple of years later.

But he has never recorded with as much breadth and depth, nor was his mission in better focus than it was here.

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